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Monday, August 26, 2013

Passau: August 26, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam,

Well. I am a little irritated right now. I just deleted an email that I had been working on for about thirty minutes or so. So this is probably going to be the worst email that you have ever received from me. Sorry about that.

Well, I really don't know what to write, I don't want to type out all those things I had just written, because now they are just boring for me. Anyway, there was a baptism in our ward this week for a guy from Nigeria whom the Sisters have been teaching. He had asked Elder Barker and me to be witnesses, and then asked me to confirm him the next day, which was a super awesome experience, because I had never had the opportunity to do that before.

Something cool that has been happening recently: our Branch President's son is less active (that's not the cool part), and when they took us out to dinner a couple of weeks ago, their son, Michael, came and I guess he like me (He's like thirty or so, we just talked a lot about movies and such things), and so our branch president invited us to dinner again this week, so that we could establish more contact with their son. They actually put a lot of pressure on me right when we got to the restaurant, because Micheal wasn't there yet, and so they said, make sure that he sits next to you, Elder Merkley. I got really worried, but he came and we were able to have a really good conversation, so they were super happy. The Branch President and his wife are actually getting really worried about transfers, they keep saying that they have never had such good missionaries, and that we are such a good team, and that kind of stuff. They are going to take us out next Pday so that we can go see somewhere pretty, and so that Michael and I can hang out again, I think, haha. I'll let you know how that goes.

I cooked a ton this week! I think I was telling Tin about this already, but I have been trying to eat a lot healthier, and try to really cook meals, and I did it a few times this week, I mean, I used a lot of mixes and then just added in a lot of ingredients, but it was tasty, and there were a lot of vegetables! I actually have lost a lot of weight here in Passau, probably around 10 lbs or so. I'm not as skinny as I was at BYU, which is also ok, because I was super skinny then, but I've slimmed down a lot.

Elder Barker and I have been doing well this week, still getting along pretty well. I'm trying to help him learn how to pull his own weight in a lot of areas, but the going has been slow. I don't feel like he necessarily slows us down in missionary work, he has been making big improvements in this area.  It still has been really enjoyable though, because we get along well, and the general mood of our companionship is a lot better than others that I have experienced.

You're having dinner with Elder Jerman's family? Haha, that's so great! I love that kid! I just talked to him on the phone this week, I was actually calling about Sven, and he sounds great! He has been learning the language really well, and we had our entire conversation in German. We had a ton of fun together.

Speaking of Sven, he is doing great! I talked to him yesterday and he is done with rehab, and is feeling awesome. He is living with his girlfriend right now, which threw up some red flags in my mind. We talked about it, and he assured me that nothing is up, and that it is a big house and that kind of stuff. I'm still a little worried, but I trust him. He says that on of his girlfriend's boys wants to be baptized, and Xenia should be getting baptized sometime soon, he said he'll let me know about the date.

Thanks for making the Dropbox! I just spent like 20-30 minutes looking through all the pictures, which is a factor in the lack of time that i have now...sorry! I don't have my cord with me this week, but I will be sure to put pictures up there, maybe I'll even throw most of them up there so that I don't have to worry about sending my memory card home, because one of them has a ton of room still.

Teaching Pool: nonexistent. Lesson average: approximately 1 every other week. We have a less active whom we sometimes visit. (Have you been noticing my great English recently? I've been really trying to speak proper English.)

Well, like I said, I don't really want to spend more time writing, becuase although this is short, I have spent like an hour writing already...

I love you all!

Elder Merkley

Monday, August 19, 2013

Passau: August 19, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam,

This week was kind of boring... I don't even to know what to tell you all about. I guess I'll start with today, because today was really thought-provoking. We went to a concentration camp with the Sisters today, it's called Dachau, and we walked around and looked at the museum, and it was really awesome. I had actually forgotten how tiring it is to be a tourist, but all these pictures and facts really made me think about the Holocaust, and it made it a lot more real to me.

We had a finding day in Landshut on Saturday, which was also a ton of fun. I was working with this guy named Elder Spencer, who is in his first transfer. It is so funny, these Goldens all think that I am old on my mission, haha. It makes me laugh every time. Anywho, we doored into about 7 (that is no exaggeration) people who were not wearing pants. The Germans are very...unashamed in some ways. Like how they just come to the door and open it wide when they are not wearing pants. Elder Spencer and I were just dying of laughter after the fifth time in a row. I can't even count how often that has happened to me on my mission. Fortunately it is usually older people, but at the same time, that is a little unfortunate, because no on really wants to see that. I have been scarred in many ways. Things have been seen that I will never be able to unsee.

Is it weird to have missionaries living with you? I feel like that would be weird to have members see me wearing pajamas, or see me without my missionary face on, you know? The closest I get to that is when I do service for the members, but those kind of opportunities are few and far between, and I still get to wear my nametag and whatnot. Do they ever join you for things like family scripture study, or lunch or things like that? Do they just eat your food? This concept is so foreign to me. You asked about our apartment, and like I have said before, they call our apartment the Passau Palace, because it is really big. It still has that kind of dirty missionary feel. It takes a lot of effort to keep the apartment somewhat clean, and I am not a clean freak, so I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle, haha.

Things have been going pretty well with Elder Barker. We still get along well. He has been getting better and has been trying to speak more German this week. I still speak mainly German with him outside the apartment, but it gets hard when he only ever responds in English, and when I feel like he doesn't understand me at all. The longer language studies have helped though, as I think we both have the feeling now that we are at least doing something about his language skills. I don't think that one of us will get transferred. My patience has been getting a lot better though, which I think has been helping my relationship with Elder Barker. I have been trying to understand him, and have just realized that this is who he is, and have tried to love him for that.

I have felt myself making a lot of progress recently, too. I feel like I have come to accept myself for who I am a lot more, and have come to just be happier in general. A lot of gospel principles are making a lot more sense to me, in that I have been able to really see the need and the blessings of things. For example, with obedience. I have a goal this week to try and just be more obedient. Not that I think I am disobedient, but I have just been thinking a lot about obedience, and have realized the blessings that come with it. I just want to try and be more obedient in all that I do, so I can try the Lord and see what kind of blessings I receive. Anyway, I have been doing a lot of deep thinking recently, and I feel like I have really been getting places with my thoughts. I use to try to think deeply about things, and then I would just never get anywhere with my thoughts. Now I find myself forming conclusions and forming opinions about things, which I am really happy about. Like I wrote in previous emails, I have just been feeling myself become a lot more content recently, and am working on becoming even better at it.

Any interesting cultural events? Hmm... Well, I love being in Bayern right now, because I have never seen so many people wearing Lederhosen as I have in the last few months. Oktoberfest is right around the corner, and if I stay another transfer I may be able to get a look at it. I love how everyone just wears Lederhosen, it's so hilarious! Other than that i didn't get any letters this week, either did Elder Barker. In fact, I'm pretty sure Elder Barker has only received like 2 or three his entire time here.

Sorry, so I don't have a ton of time to write tonight, but know that I love you all!! I love being able to read your emails every week!

Love,
Elder Merkley

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Passau: August 12, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam

It sounds like you are having a ton of fun on your vacation! I'm a little jealous about this drive to Chicago, only because I barely remember the last time we did that drive. I remember Liberty Jail, but I have no recollection of Winter Quarters.

The weather this week has been alternating between ridiculously hot, and only mildly hot. As your wrote though, the last couple of days have been a lot cooler. This week we have actually been starting off almost every day with a jog, which I have been really enjoying. When you have somewhere beautiful to jog then it makes it a lot more fun. Here in Passau we have the most beautiful run in the world. We run to what is called 'die Spitze', which is the point of Passau, where the three rivers all meet together, and it is just amazing. The sun is just starting to peek over the hills (where a nice palace is), and when we get to the very point we always see something interesting. This morning I saw some guy doing yoga by himself. I think it was yoga. There was definitely a mat, and a lot of stretching and bending. Anywho, it has been a ton of fun.

Things with Elder Barker are still going well. His German has made slow improvements, and I think this week probably a little more. President Miles told us that we could have more than an hour of language study, so that he could learn faster, and so I've been taking the time to straight up teach him grammar principles. It's been difficult, I don't think this kind of stuff comes naturally to him, but I hope we're making progress.

Speaking of language studies, we and the Sisters here have been starting to have some language studies together too. It's kind of weird, but I am now by far the oldest missionary in my district. By a solid six months too! Yeah, so we've been studying together to try to help each other learn faster, which has actually made language study a lot more fun than it normally is.

It's still good being District Leader, nothing really new to report there. We have a total of four Elders in our district, three sisters, and then one senior couple. So it is a little bit bigger than what I am used to, but not too much different. I do feel like I am a little bit better qualified now, having actually had some mission experience now, haha.

I have heard that the next group of missionaries won't be as big as the last three or four groups, but should still be somewhere around 15-20, which would have been a huge group about a year ago. So yes, I think the mission is still growing. In fact, we have about 250 missionaries or so in our mission.  I feel like these newer missionaries are really just as well prepared as the older missionaries. I think the difference is really easier to see in the Sisters, because the difference between 19 and 21 is pretty significant. You can just kind of tell that they are not as experienced as the older Sisters, and yeah, I think that difference is a little more noticeable.

The ward is still good, but as for support... yeah, I wouldn't say that they are not supportive, but we kind of feel like there is a barrier between us and the members. We really only have contact with most of the members on Sundays. The Stake President was here yesterday and gave this amazing talk though, about how the members and the missionaries really need to work together. It has actually answered our questions, because we have been talking with the Sisters, and trying to figure out what we could do to bring the ward together and really make a change. The answer to our questions really came in an experience that he related. He told us about his great-grandmother and how she was baptized and how all her kids were baptized too. After a while the tiny little branch she was baptized in became the strongest ward in the Stake because of all her descendants. That is something that we had discussed, was the need to find another family. So that story really answered our question, and on Tuesday I think we will be fasting together for that.

So. We did have a relatively funny and awesome experience this week. We went by on somebody that had told us to come back, and her husband actually answered the door, wearing only his tighty whities (things started off on the right foot), and he invited us in right off the bat, excusing himself for his clothing, or rather the lack thereof, the entire time. He then put on a robe, and brought us some milk and some food to eat. We sit down and are just chatting, talking about our religion and his religion-he's a Buddhist who still believes in Jesus Christ and his role in saving mankind-when he then gave us 50 Euro. We tried to say no, but he got a little aggressive, and said, 'Bitte!!' a few times very strongly... so we took it, haha. And then we gave him a Book of Mormon and he made us write our names and a quick message in it, and as he put the book down next to his phone, he looked at it and his phone and started to say something, but then cut himself off and said, no, I'm not going to say that. I insisted that he did, and so he told us how he felt that the book had more power than the phone did. We bore our testimonies of that of course, although inside I did have the thought come across my brain that you can get the Book of Mormon on your phone... Anyway, sorry I'm kind of rambling, but here's the real funny part. The next day we were having a finding day here in Passau, and the Sisters ended up dooring into him. He was only wearing his underwear again. Give the guy a break though, it was pretty hot. Anyway, I guess he just cut them off, went inside and then showed them the Book of Mormon, with our names written on the inside cover, and told them that we were faster than they were, haha. He is going to Africa or something next week (right after his back surgery...), and so we don't have a return appointment, but we have his number and are hoping to set something up when he gets back.

I got a letter from you, Mom, but I haven't received a recipe for Cinnamon Rolls yet, which I was sad about. I think I want to add Oatmeal Pancakes to the list of recipes that I want, because those things are delicious, and even though I have realized that I don't like big sweet breakfasts anymore I think that would be a perfect lunch one day. I have actually been losing weight here in Passau; I think because I established my reputation pretty fast as a small eater with everyone, and so it is a lot easier to eat less than normal. I'm not as skinny as I was at BYU, but I am still like 10-12 lbs lighter than I was at my heaviest both at home and on the mission.

Well, that's that. Love you all!!

Love,
Elder Merkley

Monday, August 5, 2013

Passau: August 5, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam, 
Well, there is honestly very little to tell you, because I did of course just email last Friday. These last few days have been relatively uneventful, with church, finding, and just a lot of normal stuff. 
Just an interesting tid-bit, apparently there is another Andrew Merkley, who also has the nickname Andy, who apparently left for his mission in the last few weeks, because I can not count the number of emails I have received, that start out with, 'Andy, I'm hoping this is your email. I assume it is because most missionaries' emails are like this...' and then they go on to sometimes say some pretty personal stuff. Needless to say I have been getting a kick out of it, and have answered every single email that fell into this catergory. Don't worry though, I didn't pretend that I was this other mysterious Elder Merkley, I explained to them very nicely that I was not their Elder Merkley. 
Holy Moly, is Stuie really going home already? Wow, that was pretty quick. I can still remember playing soccer with him and a bunch of Mexicans one morning. It was pretty fun, but I felt at a disadvantage because I couldn't speak Spanish, which was the main language that was being spoken there. My first experience with a language barrier...little did I know I would sson become very familiar with such barriers. 
Mom, what the crud is this thing about britches? Is that some sort of saying that is only really used in the backwaters of the deep South? I swear I have never heard that before, and was very confused in reading it. So to answer your question: no. I didn't say anything about having the same britches to get happy again. 
Oh, I forgot to write it last week, I got a letter from Sheridan! I guess she had sent it to Heilbronn, and it must have missed me by a few days. It was really funny and very much Sheridan, I hope to be able to write her back in the next couple of weeks. Today may be difficult because tomorrow is Elder Barker's birthday, and we're going to go out to eat today to celebrate. But since we have this delay anyway, I would like to confirm, is Sheridan's address the same still? I don't have the letter with me, so I can't copy it here, but can you ask her if she has moved since then? It was like over two months ago, and I always worry that I'll send letters to the wrong address. This fear has only been heightened by my recent experience of receiving a ton of emails meant for someone else. 
Yeah, the work will really start again this week. We are finally done working at the Müllers' house, so we now will have a lot more time to really find. Which I have mixed feelings about. I am glad because I know this is how we will see more success, but at the same time I'm not super pumped to spend all day talking to people who don't really want to talk to me. Especially in this weather. I forgot to mention it, but the last couple of weeks have been so hot that the second hour of Church (We only have two hours in our branch here) has been cancelled the last two weeks. I straight up lost about three pounds while I was fasting yesterday; probably from all the water weight I sweated off. But yeah, it has just been super hot recently, and doing a ton of finding is not my favorite thing to do in that kind of weather, haha. Of course, in that weather there is nothing, besides swimming, that is really fun, so I guess I'm just out of luck. 
Also, could you send me the Cinnamon Rolls recipe ASAP? I know it will be too late for Elder Barker's birthday, but I can make them maybe next week for him. Elder Barker found some random American Store thing while he was on an exchange, and so we have brown sugar right now, might as well use it! 
Life is still pretty good over here. There are a lot of things that we do that I don't really like, for example, the previously mentioned finding in Sahara like temperatures, with the humidity of the tropics on top of that, but overall I do enjoy being a missionary. I enjoy the oppurtunities of service and growth that it provides. Looking back, I have been able to see a change in myself, which, for some reason, surprises me. I feel like I am a lot more mature than I used to be, and that I can deal with a lot of situations, with a lot of different people, and with my own emotions a lot better than I used to be able to. I don't enjoy the kind of mission culture that puts pressure to be stupidly intense about things, but I do enjoy the oppurtunity that I have to come closer to Jesus Christ, and really focus on the meaning of missionary work. The 'Why' of things. Focusing on this Why has helped me to gain perspective and overcome the concerns I have in my own work. I just realizemore and more that I am here for Jesus Christ, and He expects me to serve the best I can. I will never be able to really compare myself to somebody else, because I am different than they are. Anyway, I just realize that I have learned a lot of life lessons in the last year. 
Thanks for being the best family ever. I have been thinking the last couple weeks about how grateful I am for you all. I am just so happy that you, Mom and Dad, always lived the gospel. That we always studied the scriptures together, that we had FHE, that we really did things together. Thanks for being such great examples to me! 
Love,
Elder Merkley

Friday, August 2, 2013

Passau: August 2, 2013

Dearest Fam-bam,

Sorry that I had to change my Pday this week, but things have been kind of crazy. The Müllers have been working on moving still, and we told them we would come on Monday to help. They have a ridiculous amount of stuff, and a huge house, and so Monday turned into coming Wednesday and coming Thursday as well, which is why today, Friday, I will finally be writing you.

Things with the companion are still going well. We get along really well, which has been good. I have really been enjoying it here in Passau recently, and being with Elder Barker has also been fun. He laughs at all of my ridiculous jokes, or at all the things that aren't really funny. That has been nice, that can be a pick-me-up when things aren't going well. He has been a lot more open with me recently, and I don't know. It is hard to get annoyed with him, and he never gets annoyed with me, so life is pretty good.

District Meeting went pretty well, at least a lot less stress than I used to have. The last time I was District Leader I was super stressed about everything and it made it not a ton of fun. Now though I am able to plan the meetings and carry them through with a minimal level of stress, which I have been really enjoying, because I am not normally that stressed of a person, and I don't like it when I am stressed.

My talk also went really well this week. I chose a topic that I have studied and thought about a ton on my mission, which is happiness. I used President Utchdorf's talk, and shared a lot of my own experiences and opinions, and I was able to talk a good 20-25 minutes about it. Afterwards a ton of the members complimented me on it. I was really grateful that I was able to talk about it, because I have learned so much about this on my mission, and I was super happy to be able to share those thoughts and experiences with other people. 

As for missionary work in terms of teaching or finding, things have been going very slowly recently. Last week we had very few opportunities to do finding, because of a trip to Munich, and two or three days spent working at the Müllers, and so far this week has been very similar. This is annoying in some ways, because although I am not the biggest of fan of doing straight up finding, I know that the less we do that, the more we will have to do later. These last couple of weeks have not been great for teaching, but we have been able to really help the Müllers a lot, for which they have been very grateful. They are planning on taking us out to eat next week some time to say thank you to us.

Dad. I think you need to reexamine what a question is. Let's take a look at what your question number four was, and I quote, ' I’m sure happy to hear that you are strangely happy in Passau.  That sure will help you in your post-mission life as you are able to make any situation better through your effort and attitude' I don't know about you, but I definitely failed to see a inquiry in these statements. Maybe you should make another section of your email that is simply labeled, 'Statements'. Just food for thought.

I am still getting along really well with the members, in fact Brother Müller and I bonded yesterday on the way home from his house, because we found out that we both don't really like watermelon because we both think that it tastes like cucumbers, which we both hate. He is the first person who hasn't laughed at me for not liking cucumbers, because I absolutely hate them. I eat everything else, mushrooms, vegetables...other foods, you name it and I eat it, but not cucumbers. Also I guess I only eat watermelon when I have to.

So. As for strange stories. Well, you are lucky that I delayed my Pday this week, because something happened last night, or rather this morning, that was pretty weird. Well, so I went to bed at 10:30, totally normal, actually scratch that. We went to bed at like 10:00, because the work we do at the Müllers is super hard work, and so we were really exhausted. Not important. Anyway, so I wake up at about one o'clock this morning to someone klingeling us (Note from Daniel: "Klingel" is German for "ring", as in ring the doorbell. Every apartment building has doorbells outside it, and the residents have intercoms to communicate with those ringing the bell). I thought I would just ignore it, because I figured it was just some punk kid with his friends or something. Finally I walked to our little phone thing, that lets you talk with people down at the door, because I assumed it was someone klingeling there. I was a little rude over the phone actually...I just said, 'What?' and then waited, and then kind of said 'Who's there?' And then we were klingled again, and so I said, 'Ok, I'm coming down there'. So then I got dressed, and we were about to go out when we heard a knock at the door. I then realized that somebody must have been ringing the door from inside the building, and not from outside in front of the building. I opened the door up (by the way, this is all kind of a blur right now. I was really tired and confused), and this girl was there, and said in English `Do you speak German?` (I'm actually still confused about this, I have no idea why she had any reason to assume that I wasn't German), and when I told her I did she explained to me in very rapid German (high German luckily), that the building smelled like smoke and she had called the fire department and we all had to leave the building. So we went outside and stood around with everyone else from our building while the fire department came and put out a small fire which somehow had started directly below us. And then it got a little weirder, because this girl, who doesn't live in our building, and was just on her way to go party with her friends, came up to us and told us that we could stay with her if we didn't have anywhere else to stay. She insisted on giving us her number, and told us to call her if we needed to come and stay with her. Right after she walked away, I was just like, We are definitely not doing that, Elder Barker. Luckily it never came to that point, and we eventually got back into our building. Falling asleep again was pretty hard though, because I kept having this image in my brain of these firefighters running around and yelling in angry sounding German to each other.

Well, there we go. that was my week and a half. I'm going to be writing you in a few days anyway, and so I'm not really concerned about writing you more today. Love you all!!

Love,
Elder Merkley